I am consistently amazed at the number of proficient martial artists we have in this country, and even more amazed at the number that exist in the relatively small towns in which my wife and I operate our studios. At least that's what I would be forced to conclude if I were to take the word of everyone who walked through our doors. It seems that at least 50% (and believe me, this is a somewhat conservative estimate) of all prospective students (and, indeed, those I meet in the general public population as well) have someone in their family that trained in the martial arts at some point in their lives. Let me be clear: I don't find anything wrong with that. While it definitely has its bad side, I think that in most ways the proliferation of the martial arts in the United States and throughout the world is a good thing. What does bewilder me is that people consistently feel the need to bring up their prior martial arts training to me, and what bewilders me even more are the ways in which they do it.
Perhaps they feel that in bringing up their own training, they are in someway relating to me, which I really do understand at some level. In all honesty, though, the longer I train, the less I feel the need to bring it up in casual conversation. It really only comes up when someone asks about it, or meets me through the martial arts world to begin with. (Yes, I consider this blog to a part of that world.) All too often, however, I feel that people bring up their past training as a way to feel more like an equal in a somewhat unbalanced relationship. Invariably, when the conversation turns to martial arts, the person who is no longer actively training says something along the lines of "Oh, I used to do that." While the details may change from person to person in regards to martial arts style, belt attained, or reasons for leaving, the words "I used to" ring through my brain like an annoying klaxon, but what irks me even more is the need to equate their training experience with my own. I'm sorry, but in the realm of the martial arts, 99.9% of the time, this person and I are NOT equals. What I don't understand is the need for them to feel like we are.
I don't think most parents would feel it is appropriate to walk into their child's classroom and tell the teacher about their own qualifications in education, or feel the need to start giving them advice on how to run their classrooms. (Although, in this day and age, not being a parent, I'm sad to say might be wrong about that). Personally, I don't take my car to the mechanic and tell him how much experience I have fixing cars. I don't go to the doctor's office and tell the doctor about my medical expertise. I don't feel the need to tell my accountant the degree to which I could handle doing my taxes myself. I could go on with examples, and perhaps I am wrong in my own perceptions of the examples above as they relate to the larger population. I really don't feel that this practice is all that common in other fields, though, so why is it so pervasive the world of the martial arts?
Now when various people tell me how they "used to do that", I respond cordially, and let them talk about their experiences, because there is usually little harm in letting them get it out of their systems. I don't ask questions about it, and I don't press the issue, because it almost always ends up being something along the lines of :
"I used to do that when I was a kid"
"I used to do that for a few months (or even years)"
"I used to do that until I got my (insert color here) belt"
Every time I hear one of these "I used to do that" lines, I want to respond how I really feel: NO- you didn't. How do I know this? It's quite simple really, though I feel that the English language lacks the appropriate words to convey my meaning, so I 'll use quotation marks around the words that come closest to expressing my feelings on the matter:
If you truly "did" what I "do", then you would still be "doing" it.
"Do" isn't really the right word, though, (at least not the right English word) because being a martial artist isn't something I "do". Furthermore, it will NEVER be something I "did." A martial artist is something I AM. Even if I cannot continue to train physically due to injury or illness, I will not stop being a martial artist. Even if (in the most unlikely scenario imaginable to me) I decided to give up my art and close the doors to my school, I personally won't stop being a martial artist. I just can't. It's not in me. I will continue to study, to read, to write, and to train to whatever degree I remain physically and mentally able to do so. I will strive to better my mind, my body, my spirit, my technique, and my understanding of the Martial Way of Life. Martial arts just will never in any way become something I "used to do", and if you "used to" be a martial artist, then I'm sorry, but you never really were one to begin with, and you are simply not my equal in that realm.
I'm sorry if that offends you, but it doesn't make it any less true. I'm most likely not your equal when it comes to your profession, either, but I won't try to be, nor I will I try to share my experience in your field when I really don't have any. I went to college to be a high school English teacher, but I never actually held a job it that capacity. Therefore, I am NOT your equal in that field if you are a high school English teacher, or if you are a public or private school teacher of any kind at at all. My experiences in college can in no way relate to the experiences of a teacher in a real classroom, and are therefore irrelevant in conversation. In fact, my college degree almost never comes up, unless someone asks me about it, or when it is in some way relevant to my actual life as a martial artist and martial arts instructor. While I may try to relate to a school teacher through my own experiences as a martial arts instructor, I most certainly do NOT try to relate to them as another school teacher would. Therefore, I would find it much more interesting if someone tried to relate another occupation to martial arts then just telling me "I used to do that"...because, no, you didn't.
By now perhaps you are beginning to feel that I am rather full of myself as a martial artist, but I assure you, this is not the message I am trying to convey. It is simply a quantitative analysis. Unless you have spent the last 30 years or so studying a specific martial art in depth, and the martial arts in general, you aren't my equal in this field. If you have done so (as I know some of my readers have) then you are an equal, and you already know exactly what I'm talking about in this post. Finally, if you have done more training and studying than I have, I readily accept the fact that I am not your equal, and am happy to learn from your experience, without thinking I have to elevate my own status in any way. I know that I still have a long way to go. In fact, Grandmaster Jae Chul Shin told us in his final volume of Traditional Tang Soo Do that:
If we consider a total course ranging from 0 to 100,
Ko Dan Ja have an achievement rating of ~40% for
4th Dan, 50% for 5th Dan, and so on.
So, if we accept this premise, then at 5th Dan I have achieved at a 50% level. Frankly, I think that's probably a bit on the generous side, but it still isn't even a passing grade. Why then would I stop? In the World Tang Soo Do Association, a minimum passing score is 70%, so I'll have to continue to at least 7th Dan. Even then, I think I'll keep going, because who wants to just barely pass? I'd like to reach 9th Dan one day. Why not? Our Association has set it as an attainable goal, so I see no reason why I should not attempt to attain that level of achievement. I may not make it, but it certainly won't be a goal I "used to" have.
All people are not equal in all ways. The only thing that's new is the attempt to convince others we are their equals when we know in our hearts that we are not. So, if you are a martial artist, I'll be happy to converse with you about the martial arts, even if you no longer actively train. (And believe me, I actually know martial artists who have never set foot on a training floor, but that's a different topic altogether.) If you aren't a martial artist, please don't tell me about how you "used to be" one, unless you have the intention of becoming one again, because:
If you truly are what I am, then you always will be,
and there is no need to qualify or quantify it to me.
Kick. Punch. Easy Stuff.